“Interns Are People!”

Dec 5 2013 @ 11:35am

Charles Davis has a thorough takedown of liberal magazines that pay their interns nothing (Harper’s, Salon, The New Republic) or next to nothing (The American Prospect). One of the more vivid examples:

In 2011, Democracy Now! asked its $15-a-day employees to work the program’s 15th anniversary gala, a major fundraiser. Interns were asked to “greet and thank guests, check their coats, make sure the event goes smoothly, and help clean up,” according to an email obtained by VICE. “We will provide you with a delicious pizza dinner, but ask that you refrain from eating the catered dinner at the event.” Back then, interns did not have to wait two months to get their $15 stipend, which probably made the Domino’s go down easier. But while entry-level staffers at Democracy Now! are paid less than ever, not all have shared in the sacrifice: [Amy] Goodman made more than $148,000 in 2011, twice what she took home in 2007—and that doesn’t include income from book sales or speaking engagements. Requests for comment were not acknowledged by Democracy Now!.

His broader points:

Money is not an excuse. If you set out believing you are obliged to pay your employees, you find a way to do it. The progressive Utne Reader manages to pay its interns minimum wage. Dissent magazine just started paying their college interns $2,000 a semester, which comes out to about $7.80 cents an hour by my calculations. And the left-wing Truthout.org pays every intern $10 an hour. None of these places are rolling in money. …

Experience is great and can open doors, but unpaid and low-paid internships can also slam doors shut. Failing to pay young journalists a decent wage is effectively a way of saying that those too poor to work for nothing need not apply. That socio-economic filter leads to a pool of journalists—even at good, upstanding progressive publications—that is wealthier and whiter than the public as a whole. And that hurts the final product.

Davis’ journalism has already done some good: “After the publication of this article, Mother Jones announced that it had increased its budget for interns/fellows in 2014,” above minimum wage. For the Dish’s own part, we pay our interns about one-and-a-half times the minimum wage and provide health insurance. And we certainly aren’t rolling in money.